Whether or not there should be a plus-size Barbie wouldn’t be my question. I wouldn’t even have just one question. My questions would be:
- Why would anyone expect a plastic doll to accurately reflect anything?
- Why would anyone expect a long blond-haired, blue-eyed doll with perfect skin, perfect proportions, sparkly jewels, a little pink outfit and high heels accurately depict the average American woman just because it has a double chin and an extra 20 pounds?
- And most importantly, should we stop “playing” with Barbie?
Barbie = ideal woman
There is much controversy about Barbie being a bad influence on little girls. With her wee waist and perfect hair, she represents the unrealistic, unattainable ideal for little girls of all sizes and ethnicities. Despite Mattel’s efforts to make Barbie modern by giving her jobs, changing her skin colour and widening her waist, Barbie remains a provocative role model. But how exactly did a toy become a role model in the first place?
Launched in 1959, Barbie was marketed as a big-boobed, slim-hipped, long-legged, five foot, nine inch tall “teenage fashion model,” and if her bathroom scale was set correctly, she weighed 110lbs, which is not shocking because her babysitting guidebook (1963) told her that the best way to lose weight was to not eat.
Barbie has a Corvette, trailer, jeep, horse. She has a pilot's license, and a series of pretty great careers: Astronaut Barbie (1965), Doctor Barbie (1988) and Nascar Barbie (1998). Barbie has a boyfriend, Ken. She has multiple pets (including a panda, lion cub and a zebra, oddly). And she has an outfit (or 20) for every occasion.
She seems to have limitless funds, beauty, skills and the affection of one of the few male dolls in existence. Based on the mini-van majority cookie cutter version of the good life, Barbie has it all. Why wouldn’t little girls want to be like her?
Barbie = ideal woman = thin
An experiment, “Does Barbie Make Girls Want to Be Thin? The Effect of Experimental Exposure to Images of Dolls on the Body Image of 5- to 8-Year-Old Girls” conducted in 2006 found the following: “Barbie was examined as a possible cause for young girls’ body dissatisfaction. A total of 162 girls, from age 5 to age 8, were exposed to images of either Barbie dolls, Emme dolls (U.S. size 16), or no dolls (baseline control) and then completed assessments of body image. Girls exposed to Barbie reported lower body esteem and greater desire for a thinner body shape than girls in the other exposure conditions.”
You might argue that Barbie is just a toy, and once girls put her away, we effectively replace her image with more appropriate images of womanhood. Unfortunately, that is not the case, because as the study concluded: “girls have internalized the thin beauty, their desire to be thinner is more a reflection of that internalized standard than a direct response to environmental stimuli.” In other words, the damage is done, and not just in regards to being thin.
Barbie = ideal woman = thin by any means possible
The Barbie ideal is reinforced in every magazine, Hollywood movie, cartoon, videogame, commercial and beauty product package. She’s everywhere we look, and the inundation is taking its toll. We see the effects in adult women everyday.
- Think about plastic surgery – women are altering their faces and bodies to have wide eyes, high cheekbones, small noses, full lips, big busts, small waists, thin hips and round bottoms. Women are sucking fat out of one part of their body and squirting it into another. Women are cutting off age lines and spots from their skin.
- Think about how much money we spend on lotions, potions and creams in an effort to have smooth, pore-less, even-toned, hairless, youthful, perfect skin.
- Think about push-up bras, Spanx, hair extensions, false eyelashes, laser hair removal, self-tanning lotion, teeth whitening, coloured eye contacts, etc.
We have turned a toy into a role model into an unhealthy, unsatisfying obsession of what beauty should be, not what beauty is.
A Barbie at any other weight still wreaks havoc
So the answer to whether or not we should have a plus-size Barbie, for me, is no. It doesn’t matter if she gains 20 pounds – she still represents beauty as the most important thing a woman can have. She is still a plastic toy, not a representation of any modern woman anywhere. And if we can’t differentiate between toys and reality, then our toys need to be taken away from us.
Under no circumstance should we have Indian or Brazillian Barbie, Astronaut or Doctor Barbie, Sporty or Literary Barbie. We need to get rid of Barbie all together. We need to stop “playing” with unrealistic versions of what women are supposed to look and be like. We need to leave Barbie back in the 50s. Let’s take stock of all that we’ve accomplished since she made her debut, and talk about the journey ahead. We own this conversation. Let’s stop playing with dolls and change it.